Animal Justice Project was featured in The Sunday Times on Sunday 10th April 2016 regarding the issue of red squirrels being experimented on and killed at the Moredun Institute in 2015. The study mentioned in the article was one in which three captive bred red squirrels were infected with the squirrelpox virus before being allowed to succumb to the disease for seventeen days and be killed at the end of it. While the researchers involved, including individuals from Edinburgh and Glasgow university, stated that this was done in order to protect red squirrels in the long run, the killing of red squirrels to achieve this is hypocritical.
Red squirrels are rare and protected in the UK, and should not be purposely killed, even if this is supposedly to help them as a whole in future. Natural immunity has already been found in individuals, which is something that needs to be focused on in order to help red squirrels to thrive.
There are questions about whether a vaccination, even if successful in terms of safety in red squirrels, would truly be safe. It cannot be known from these lab studies what the effects of a vaccination will be in the long run, and if it is even realistic to try and vaccinate squirrels when there are 120,000 in Scotland, all of which could not be treated. Furthermore, a vaccination in reds would be unlikely to protect their offspring, meaning that future generations could still suffer the effects of squirrelpox if infected by a carrier.
In the study in question, it is said that 8-10% of naturally infected red squirrels survive squirrelpox virus. More productive research which would not necessitate killing any individuals would be to encourage the squirrels with the immunity to thrive and prevent the destruction of red squirrel habitats which is a growing problem and one which needs to be tackled.
Treatment for squirrelpox is already in existence, with the drug for parvovirus in companion animals having been proven to be effective. Yet the squirrels used in this experiment were killed rather than being treated.
Squirrelpox is a problem in the UK due to humans introducing grey squirrels and hunting red squirrels to near extinction in the past few centuries. As is often the case, humans are at fault. We must take responsibility for what humans have done and resolve the problem that we have created without causing squirrels any more harm, which we have already caused them by bringing the virus into the country.
Every red squirrel is important. They are each individuals and each individual adds up to the total number of red squirrels which are in the country, which is not a high figure. Humans should not be allowed to decide that some squirrels deserve to live and some deserve to be experimented upon and killed, whether grey or red.